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14. The Olivier ‘Damara-Nama’ Collection from Sesfontein (Namibia) (British Library Sound Archive C1709): repertoire, Rights Holders and repatriation
Sian Sullivan, Nami-Daman Traditional Authority, Hoanib Cultural Group, Fredrick ǁHawaxab, Welhemina Suro Ganuseand Finlay McIntosh

(September 2023)


This paper identifies Indigenous and local Rights Holders for a collection of different musical forms recorded in 1999 in Sesfontein (!Nani|aus / Ohamuheke) in Kunene Region, north-west Namibia, by ethnomusicologists Emmanuelle Olivier from France and the late Minette Mans from the University of Namibia: the ‘Olivier / Mans Collection’. In early 2015 this collection was retrieved from Olivier in France by ethnomusicologist Angela Impey (SOAS University of London and Future Pasts Co-Investigator), together with Olivier’s full set of recordings from her significant and wide-ranging ethnomusicology research in Namibia in the 1990s. The full collection of recordings and accompanying material, including the Sesfontein recordings for which ǁHawaxab was the translator and facilitator, is now catalogued and digitised as part of the Emmanuelle Olivier Collection from Namibia in the British Library Sound Archive: C1709.

Many of the Khoekhoegowab-speaking Damara / ǂNūkhoen, Nama and ǁUbun musicians recorded in Sesfontein by Olivier and Mans in 1999 have participated in research by authors Sullivan and Ganuses during their collaboration from 1994 onwards. Since learning of the Olivier recordings, a hope has been that they would be returned to those recorded, as originally promised. After receiving (in 2017) from Impey an .mp3 copy of the first of Olivier’s DAT cassettes from Sesfontein, and subsequently scanning Olivier’s colour slides from Sesfontein in the British Library (in 2018), Sullivan worked with Ganuses and ǁHawaxab to identify musicians present in these slides. These musicians, their families/descendants and their wider community – represented today by the Nami-Daman Traditional Authority and the Hoanib Cultural Group of Sesfontein – are the Indigenous and local Rights Holders to the Olivier Sesfontein Collection in the British Library (BL).

     In August 2021 Sullivan was approached by a Data Protection and Rights Clearance Officer (World and Traditional Music) at the British Library working on the project ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ (, requesting information regarding Rights Holders to “arub healing ceremonies” in the C1709 Emmanuelle Olivier Collection, in the course of potentially making these recordings publicly accessible. In subsequent communications with ǁHawaxab and the Nami-Daman TA it became clear that several layers of complexity surround the permissions requested by the British Library for offering public access to the Sesfontein recordings. In particular: 1) an initial commitment by Olivier and Mans for the 1999 recordings to be returned to the Sesfontein musicians for their own use had not been upheld; and 2) no permissions from the Indigenous and local Rights Holders to the recorded Sesfontein music were sought prior to the cataloguing and digitising of the recordings in the British Library from 2015.

     This paper compiles what is known of the Rights Holders to the recorded Sesfontein musics held in C1709 in the British Library and documents the process of facilitating the return of these musics to them.


Keywords: Rights Holders; Indigenous Damara-Nama Musics; intangible cultural heritage; copyright; intellectual property; Khoekhoegowab; Sesfontein; Namibia; Ethnomusicology; British Library; Damara / ǂNūkhoen; Nama; ǁUbun

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